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Breaking down the defense versus Rutgers

The MSU defense was dominant against Rutgers and has been all season.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

What a rough regular season it was for Michigan State football. The offense was a mess and injuries really hurt. However, one thing that was strong all season was the defense. The MSU defense was the heart and soul of this team and kept the Spartans in every single game this season. Against Rutgers, the defense slammed the door shut with a game winning interception. After being on the field so much this season, an extended break before a bowl game will help.

What went wrong

Pass Rush

It was tough trying to find something that went wrong, especially because the defense played so well throughout the game. Rutgers only threw the ball 18 times, which is likely a big reason why the Spartans didn’t have a single sack and just one quarterback hurry. This was really the one area the Spartans’ defense didn’t have a lot of success against Rutgers and the defensive line still played well. Kenny Willekes was applying pressure and the line was plugging up holes, which allowed the linebackers to make a ton of stops. The lack of sacks doesn’t look good on the stat sheet, but the pass rushers didn’t have a lot of opportunities or time to get after the quarterback.

What worked

Limiting the damage

Rutgers’ two scoring drives both started inside the MSU 35-yard line. Outside of those two drives, Rutgers didn’t get much going on offense. Rutgers finished the game with 217 yards of total offense and 42 of those came on the two scoring drives, so on Scarlet Knights’ other 10 drives, they averaged 17.5 yards. Without great field position, Rutgers wasn’t scoring in this game. The MSU offense put the defense in a lot of bad situations this season, but the defenses ability to limit the damage was key to getting to seven wins.

Forcing turnovers

The Spartans have forced a turnover in every game this year, but none were as important as the three (two interceptions, one fumble) they forced against Rutgers. The Spartans were in danger of losing to one of the worst teams in the country, but turnovers saved the day against the Scarlet Knights. On the season, the Spartans forced 23 turnovers, which is tied for 16th best in the nation. The Spartans will lose a couple key pieces from this year’s unit, but next year’s defense will look very similar.